DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - One of the political world’s favorite things to do is analyze an elected official after 100 days. That’s silly, because the only thing that should be mercilessly judged after three months and a week is a new restaurant or the person you’re dating. By that point you’ve got a solid idea, whether it concerns food or someone to cozy up with while watching “Scandal,” if it’s worth going back for more.
While 100 days may offer plenty of opportunity for a politician to go from “Scandal” to scandal — just think of touchy-feely former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner — it provides no real opportunity to right a sunken ship. If a newbie takes over a city with a disaster of an economy, as Mayor Eric Garcetti did on July 1, then effecting any serious change will take far longer. And good gravy, no, I’m not comparing Garcetti to Filner.
Garcetti’s 100th day fell on Tuesday, Oct. 8. Recognizing how the game is played, he stepped to the forefront, sending a 100 days email to Angelenos and holding a press conference to detail early-term highlights; the latter doubled as an opportunity to reveal a new website that uses metrics to gauge the city’s performance in various matters.
New websites are always fun. While waiting for the press conference to begin, I couldn’t help but recall Pets.com, which seemed like a great idea until it became clear that selling 75 pound bags of dog food online for $8 including shipping is a terrible business model. Fortunately, lamayor.org/performance doesn’t have a “Wanna Buy Some Kibble?” tab.
Riordan, Tech and the DWP
While it’s impossible to adequately judge a mayor after 100 days, that is time enough to learn about their personality and proclivities. So it is with Garcetti. Though we won’t know what he’s made of until he endures some serious challenges — e.g. an earthquake or thousands of inebriated people celebrating a Dodgers World Series victory — there are some things we have already discerned.
The Mayor He’s Learned the Most From Is… Villaraigosa: As I wrote back at the 50-day point, Garcetti’s prime directive seems to be to avoid behaving like his predecessor, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Garcetti has done a fantastic job of grasping the mood of the city, which is exemplified in his continued mantra of going “back to basics.” He has shrugged off the previous mayor’s media blitz and Look-At-Me!-itis and instead has operated on the idea that jobs and the economy are the top priority for most Angelenos.
Proof that he got it right also came last week, in the form of a poll released by Cal State L.A.’s Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs. It found that 29% of respondents said that jobs and the economy are the most important problem facing L.A. today; a distant second was congestion and overcrowding at 14%. Kobe’s busted Achilles was cited as the third-biggest problem facing the city. OK, that’s not true.
The Other Mayor He’s Learned the Most From Is… Riordan: A mega-millionaire Republican businessman and a multi-culti Democrat former college professor might seem to have as much in common as John Candy and Steve Martin in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, but Garcetti’s jobs-driven and industry-wooing approach is straight out of the former mayor’s playbook.
Taking over in post-recession 1993, Riordan succeeded because he responded aggressively to the city’s shoddy business climate. He created a Business Team whose purpose was to recruit companies and industries to L.A. Garcetti, taking over in post-recession 2013, has echoed the approach with his professed desire to chase technology jobs and to halt runaway film production.
For the record, yes, I just referenced a 26-year-old movie. Later I’ll be sure to bring up timely things like the Mac Lisa and Internet Explorer.
The DWP’s Gonna Keep Getting It: Garcetti won the election in part because he turned Wendy Greuel’s megabucks support from the union representing most Department of Water & Power employees against her. Then, shortly after taking office, he played hardball as a new contract for the workers was being negotiated.
Last week he was happy to keep hitting, referencing how he “took on the status quo” and that the agency needs a utility pole’s worth of reform. He even alluded to “secret spending” going on inside the department. Secret spending!
Is this taking revenge or using a political opportunity? The answer is, it doesn’t matter. If Garcetti goes this route in front of a gaggle of reporters, then odds are the big swings will keep coming.
Tick Tock Tech: Garcetti has long been ahead of the curve on technological matters and social media, though being ahead of the curve when it comes to the city isn’t saying much, considering that most departments still use Mac Lisas and access the web via Internet Explorer (you were warned).
That said, Garcetti’s savvy could pay off in interesting ways for the wired generation. He’s been big on pushing the hashtag #lamayor as a means to create “immediate interaction” with the community, and though it sounds like a cliché, it doesn’t mean it’s not true. Additionally, his metrics website could be pioneering if indeed it shows a warts-and-all view of what is happening in the city and provides a benchmark to measure improvement.
“We are confident we will put things up there that don’t make the city look good,” he said/threatened last week.
He’s Ready to Shake It Up: Shortly after taking office, Garcetti said that about 35 department general managers would have to reapply for their jobs. Then… crickets. By day 100 the only ouster announced — under the guise of “retirement” — was that of Port of L.A. boss Geraldine Knatz.
Then, kaboom! On the morning of day 102, Garcetti announced that under-fire Fire Chief Brian “The Human Extinguisher” Cummings will be replaced Nov. 1. Cummings had drawn the mayor’s ire for a series of faulty department response time reports, and was called on the carpet back when Garcetti served on the City Council.
Last week, Garcetti said that as many as 10 or 12 GMs could ultimately be replaced. This shouldn’t be too surprising, as new CEOs at big businesses generally bring in their own bench. Still, it feels like a sizable change.
He Has His Own Version of Star Power: Villaraigosa famously powwowed with Charlie Sheen, among others. Garcetti’s entertainment industry ties skew younger. Talk show host Jimmy Kimmel appeared at his inauguration. This month, Garcetti showed up onstage, playing keyboards, with musician Moby.
He Gives Good Quote: Maybe it’s because he’s gregarious and energetic. Maybe it’s because his father Gil Garcetti was district attorney and Eric grew up understanding how the media operates. Maybe it’s because he has appeared on TV shows including “The Closer” and “All My Children.” Whatever the case, Garcetti is adept at delivering the type of snappy quotes that fit perfectly into 1,200-word encapsulations of his first 100 days.
At last week’s press event he effortlessly tossed out gems, saying, at one time or another, “I’ll take results over personality any day,” “We don’t have enough disruptive forces in city government,” “I still feel in some ways I have a rookie’s perspective and a veteran’s experience” and “I’m your father, Luke.”
One of those didn’t happen.